Friday evening, the 12ᵗʰ of February 2016, about 8 P.M. I'd just finished Oxenfree. My mind still on 'Edwards Island', thinking about the game, what I'd just experienced. It was more than just a game, it was something that had had an impact on me, something I'd carry with me for a long time.
"This is what I want to do. This is what I SHOULD do. I want to tell stories, my stories. I want to craft experiences for people to remember. Touch them."
And I started. So I did...
Before I started working that night, on what eventually would become 'Marie's Room', I already had brainstormed quite a lot about what side project I wanted to work on next. The one I'd chosen was fairly simple in essence. I would start making props to decorate a complete teenager bedroom. By the way, fun fact: the room started out as a 70's teenager girl bedroom, but I quickly abandoned that idea early in development.
At that time I had nothing more than a Trello board full of reference pictures. Not really a plan at all. The only thing I knew was how I wanted it to look. I knew I wanted the room to tell a story. Even if only by environmental storytelling. Because at this point, it wasn't really the plan to make 'a game'. I wanted to create something visual. Never dared to think I would've been able to create a complete game.
So I started production, with the little bit of 'pre-production' I had done. This is probably not the way to go. But it kind of worked out for me I guess. If there is something I trust myself with, it's vision. And vision for this project? I knew I had.
My main purpose was to learn the Unreal 4 engine, I'd worked with UDK before, but had up until that point never touched UE4.
I already had quite some experience using Unity as the engine of choice at my day job. So the alternation between the two felt quite great, to learn the ins and outs of both of them. And to be able to compare them both, to decide for future projects which engine I'd prefer.
(this could be a blog post of its own maybe)
So for about a year, I worked on this project all alone. Still not really 'a game', more like a portfolio piece. I struggled a lot at the time. It was quite hard to keep the love for the project during this period. I never worked on 'Marie's Room' full time. Most of it I worked during the week, after my day job. Or in the weekends, when I could work in big chunks.
It's hard when you're working alone on a project. You start doubting the smallest things, "Is this the best approach?", "Is this how this cupboard should look like?", "Wouldn't it have been better if the lighting was at night?".
Or, the thing that I was struggling most with: everything that comes into the project, is yours. A lot of the times I lost the sense of, if what I was doing, was good enough. I started doubting my skills. Much later I learned some kind of solution to this problem. When (re)viewing your work, be it a game, or even music, movie,... try to do it in another context. When I watched the game being played on my TV for the first time, or projected on the wall at a friend's place, it 'clicked' again, everything fell in place. I could be critical about the work again, but not being devastated at the same time.
March 2016 - An early overpaint with early version of the room, to get an idea what would be needed.
The room started shaping up nicely. My process was fairly simple. I created all 3D assets in Blender, got the model in Unreal as soon as possible, and painted the textures while reviewing them in the engine. This is how I work most of the time. In my experience it's super beneficial to review your assets in the game engine itself. Because the lighting setup and material setup is already there. The work itself wasn't really hard here, it just was, well... a lot of work, because I wanted a lot of props so the room felt 'alive'. I think/hope I succeeded on that part.
In another blog post I'm going to continue the story. How I transitioned the static scene into a level where you could walk around as a player, the challenges of 'programming' the game as an artist, and how it felt to get other people involved.
I hope you liked this post and it was helpful or enjoyable in any way. If it was, I'd love to hear from it. Also, if you have any questions, or if you'd like for me to clarify a certain topic, don't hesitate to comment or contact me.
Hope to see you soon.